Living into this 2nd week of the COVID-19 crisis reminds me of another time in my life.  It was the one and only time I ever got a “pink slip.” It came unexpectedly, out-of-the-blue and totally disrupted my life and the life of my family because I was the primary breadwinner.

I was the palliative care chaplain for Methodist Health System which included a Level 1 trauma center, a tertiary-care hospital, and a smaller community hospital in North Central Texas.  I loved my work providing support to the dying, their families, and friends.  I thought I had found my “niche” in life.  I was happy.

On this particular day, I was in CCU of one of the facilities as life-support was being discontinued on one of our patients.  I received a call on my pager to contact the pastoral care office.  When I did, I was asked to come down to the office when I could.  I thought, “no problem, later is soon enough.”

When I arrived, I was greeted by the Vice President of Pastoral Services and the Department Manager.  They asked me to sit down, handed me a letter to read, and waited for my response.  Of course, I was crushed.  I had no words.

After the initial shock, nothing prepared me for later…when fear and anxiety really set in!  My mind was filled with questions like, “how’re we going to pay the mortgage? Or what will our future or Crystal’s future look like now?  I was already 45 years old, scared and with no resources beyond the income already coming into our household.

My Mom was here at that time and gave me some motherly advice.  She reminded me to go back to what I know. The only way to know how God was speaking to my life situation was to ask.  So, I did.  I prayed…and I listened.  I learned not to disregard the voice within me who sounded like me.  I discovered that God’s Presence really was within me giving me a sense of guidance, resilience and peace.  That Presence resides within you as well.

During that really dark place, I discovered through my relationship with God an unprecedented invitation to reimagine my life.  I discovered that the more thought and energy I gave to the what if’s, the more anxious and agitated I became.  I learned to live more fully into the “Serenity Prayer.”

Sisters and Brothers, we are now being given an opportunity to reimagine life in a new way; in a godly way that more closely aligns with the way of Jesus Christ as we learn through Scriptures and see expressed through his followers within and beyond the walls of the church.  It is the WAY which does not shut out but invites in; a WAY that seeks to heal the wounded and gives hope to the hopeless.  This WAY is already available to us and resides within us, but it’s expression through us is not without a cost.  This is the heart of the Gospel.

When COVID-19 is over (and yes, it will end) I see a whole new horizon opened up to us.  I see us being honest and truthful with ourselves and each other.  I see us honoring our relationships with other human beings and with the rest of creation instead of ignoring and disregarding their inherent dignity. I see the Beloved Community existing all over the world.  It can happen.  It’s up to us to reimagine it so.

With many hugs and kisses…6 feet away of course! 😊

Freda Marie+

Serenity Prayer – Full Version (composed in 1940s)

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.

Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971)

 

Dear Folks,

When something kept my brother and me from going outside, we pushed the furniture against the walls and wrestled.  There were no rules for our accustomed tangles—all we knew were the professional wrestling matches we’d seen on Saturday morning TV—so things got nutty fast.  We would dive from the sofa, bend each other’s arms and legs backward at menacing angles, and hold each other’s noses to the floor.  We loved every minute of it, laughing and carrying on until one of us had the breath knocked out of him.  (It was always me, since Paul outweighed me by 10-15 pounds and had the confident moves of a natural athlete.)  My scrambling was fast but inefficient—picture Tweety Bird squaring off against Batman—so I’d try to make him laugh, if I needed some leverage.  When the howling got too loud (again, usually mine), our mom would put us at either end of the house.  She knew that being separated from each other was the worst punishment my brother and I could endure.  I still feel that way, and you may, too.

Out of an abundance of caution, all of us have been asked to practice physical distancing from one another.  Parishioners are working from home, meetings are being held online, college students have left dorm rooms and returned to Baltimore.  Some of us are on lock-down, not allowed to welcome visitors except over the phone or by text.  Schools are closed, with teachers and students making the best of handouts and e-chats.  Teenagers are talking through windows and discovering again how great it is to hear a voice through the phone.  And Bishop Sutton announced today that public services of worship are cancelled at least through May 15.

To stay connected, we are offering prayers on Facebook, live streaming services every day of the week. Our learning curve is steep!  Monday morning, Freda Marie was perfect.  Tuesday at noon, Cristina was broadcast sideways.  Thursday at noon, yours truly switched on the video feed halfway through the prayers, sideways again, with my hand covering the microphone.  Who knows how Friday will go!  Note the service times below, and please tune in; if a service is meaningful to you, invite friends and neighbors who need a boost.  We will offer a homily every Sunday morning.

To stay connected, we have grouped the parish into manageable portions, and recruited several dozen volunteers to reach out to each person at least once a week.  You are likely to be called, texted, or emailed by someone who is new to you, so this time of physical distancing may very well create some new friendships.  Please take advantage of being together in this way with another parishioner and give feedback to the clergy about how it’s going.

To stay connected, we will be sending e-Redeemer to you twice a week.  The clergy will continue to offer a reflection on Thursdays, and the Monday edition will provide resources from the Center for Wellbeing and any other news we have to share.  We’ll be sending prayers and articles and practices that foster healing of body, mind, and spirit.

To stay connected, we are in contact with our community partners, many of whom are particularly vulnerable at this time.  Some of you have already asked about how you can help, and we will provide information as we receive it.  See below for a way forward at this moment, knowing that things are changing every day.

We will be back together sometime soon, though I can’t tell you now exactly when that will be.  What I do know is that when we gather as a community again, it’ll be Easter, even if it turns out to be on the 4th of July!  We’ll be born again, with new ways of seeing and understanding what being connected means, new ways to know who God is even when so many have lost so much, and new ways to act and serve and love.

My brother and I used to pass notes under the door when we couldn’t be together, or we’d talk through the transom or knock out some version of Morse Code.  We figured out ways to say “I’m here” and “I love you.”  How can we do that for each other, now?

Love,
David

Streaming Services:
Morning Prayer will be offered Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 8:00 a.m.
Noon Day Prayer will be offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12 noon.
Evening Prayer will be offered Saturdays at 5:00 p.m.
Morning Prayer with Sermon will be offered Sundays at 10:00 a.m.

Click here to join a live stream of a Diocesan Contemplative Eucharist celebrated at the Cathedral of the Incarnation at 11:00 a.m. on Sundays.

What a week. What a past 24-48 hours.

As I lay in bed last night, I couldn’t help but check my phone “one last time” for an update of the “novel virus” that has infiltrated its way into our lives and consciousness, upending routines and plans, trips and gatherings, schools and universities, stock markets and store shelves; making us and our loved ones feel vulnerable in a way that, for some, is an unwelcome new feeling, and for others, is yet one more thing to bump up the dial on an already high anxiety-meter.

Of our American celebrities, that Tom Hanks is the first with access to a public platform about all of this is, I believe, a bit of grace. In case you missed it, here’s what he posted on Instagram yesterday:

“Hello, folks. Rita and I are down here in Australia. We felt a bit tired, like we had colds, and some body aches …Slight fevers too. To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for Coronavirus, and were found to be positive … [We] will be tested, observed, and isolated for as long as public health and safety requires … Not much more to it than the one-day-at-a-time approach, no? We’ll keep the world posted and updated. Take care of yourselves! Hanx!”

For me, his post invoked the spirit of another man, whom he recently portrayed in the movie A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood. Imagine, for a few moments, what this man might be saying, were he still alive today … perhaps in conversation with a beloved character from his show, Daniel Tiger.

“I’m scared.”

Yes, I know. I am a little too. It’s okay to be scared.

“So many things feel out of my control! What can I do?” (fretfully, rubbing paws together)

Well, there are some things we know we can do … like wash our hands … take good care of ourselves and one another … get lots of rest … avoid large public gatherings…You know, our bodies are made to fight things like this, and most of us really are going to be okay. Things are just going to feel strange and different, for awhile. Especially not being able to hug and touch other people we see around, like we’re used to.

“I really don’t like that part!”

Me neither. It might help to remember it’s just for a season. It won’t be like this forever. It’s just hard now.

“And what about grandma and grandpa Tiger? And my friends who are already sick or maybe not so strong?”

Yes, they will need to be more careful, stay inside more, just to be safe. But the rest of us can help get them what they need. We just all need to stay connected in the ways we can. We will get through this, together.

“Thank goodness for our phones and emails! And all those other things I don’t know how to use but maybe I can learn and try!”

Yes indeed, thank goodness.

“Can I call you if I get more scared? Or if I need help? Or someone I know needs help?”

Of course, you can call me, Daniel Tiger. That’s what friends are for.

“I’m glad we are friends.”

Me too.

While that beloved minister has now travelled on to a Larger Audience, David, Freda Marie and I are here, and we welcome your calls, notes, emails. We all need one another, always, and especially in seasons and times like this. We are Christ’s hands and hearts — all of us — together, and God Is. Still. Always.

~Cristina

Helpful links:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/top-meditation-iphone-android-apps

https://www.bible-verses-to-inspire.com/encouraging-bible-verses.html

Latest information:

We will gather for worship at Faith@Five on Saturday, March 14, and then suspend all services until March 27.

Live broadcast of 11:00 a.m Sunday service at the National Cathedral.

Dear Folks,

I am writing to you as the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread, to offer information, strength, and solace.

Gathering for us is essential—it is who we are, it is what we do—but at this moment doing what we normally do puts some people at risk.  For example, Bishop Sutton has advised all churches to not offer wine at communion, giving a thoughtful rationale for why receiving the Eucharist in one kind is in fact receiving the full sacrament.  Following that directive, I distributed only bread at our Wednesday morning Eucharist yesterday, but found it impossible not to touch almost every person’s hands in that exchange.  The intention was good, but the reality challenged the CDC directive for social distancing.

Because the Book of Common Prayer includes a beautiful set of services that do not include Communion, we will offer Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer until we feel sharing the Eucharist is advisable.

Large group gatherings are also problematic at this time.  I have conferred with individuals at Johns Hopkins Medicine, the School of Public Health, Hopkins Homewood campus, and GBMC and their directive is that our Sunday 10:00 service should not meet.  They advise reducing opportunities for large numbers of people to be together, to mitigate the spread of the virus and to limit demand on health care providers.  Governor Hogan has issued a state of emergency and expects significant disruptions and the potential for long-term closures.  At the governor’s direction we will stop celebrating the 10:00 service starting this weekend.

Our plan for the foreseeable future is to offer worship in smaller gatherings in this way, knowing things are changing by the day:

  • 8:00 Sunday, Morning Prayer with music, in the church
  • Noon Monday, Noonday Prayer, in the chapel
  • 7:30 Tuesday, Morning Prayer, in the chapel
  • 7:30 Wednesday, Morning Prayer, in the chapel
  • Noon Thursday, Noonday Prayer in the chapel
  • 7:30 Friday, Morning Prayer
  • 5:00 p.m. Saturday, Faith @ Five, Evening Prayer with music, in the church

Our hope is that by increasing the number of opportunities for worship, while decreasing their size, we offer a faithful and safe response to the health crisis.

Our choirs will continue to sing, but rehearsals will be held in the parish hall with significant distance between each person and his/her neighbor.  In the church, the choirs will also spread out, to provide social distancing.

We will not have Melrose Café, coffee hour, Lenten suppers, or receptions until we are advised the risk has passed.

Sunday School will not meet in person, but instead will be delivered on-line, with teachers following up with families as needed.

We are advised not to touch each other when we gather, which you all know is especially challenging for me and many others.  Rather, we are asked to make significant eye contact, while standing at a safe distance to talk.  This is a moment to connect on the phone, or while on a walk together, or through texts.

Because of their size, Bible Studies, RYG, 12-Step and other small groups, if they desire, will continue to meet. Women of Wisdom and the Men’s group have decided not to meet.

People who are over 60, or those who have a compromised immune system for any reason, are advised to thoughtfully consider not coming to church gatherings.  Anyone who has a fever, cough, or is experiencing shortness of breath should contact their health care provider.

We will continue to make pastoral calls, so please be in touch by phone or email.  In addition to clergy support, I am organizing a large team of parishioners to be in touch with every member of our community on a regular basis: to foster human contact and community, to know how you are doing, and to register concerns.  Please look for more details in the coming days.

As a community of faith, our primary work is to be the body of Christ, to be God’s heart and hands and hope in the world.  We especially need each other now.  Please reach out to folks you are close to and stretch to connect with someone who may be alone or vulnerable right now.

We’ll get through this, and we will be stronger and better for the difficult journey.

Love,
David

The Waitress grew up in a postcard: North Baltimore colonial, three kids and a dog, picture perfect, and lonely.  She watched her parents pour their first drink before sundown every afternoon, her mother in pearls and a fresh dress, her dad exchanging his briefcase for “something cold” as he crossed the threshold.  Even as a little girl she knew the names on the bottles, how the seasons affected what was poured, when to pass the hors d’oeuvres to guests, and when to swallow her feelings.  There was something dark under the family’s brittle surface that trained her to smile no matter what, and she internalized that her experiences were less important than her parents’ tangle of anger and regret.

Because the summer’s lack of structure was especially disconcerting to her mother, the girl was sent away with her teenaged siblings to work at a seaside resort.  She learned there how to cook and clean and make the most of a crowded bunkhouse, but more importantly she discovered how to draw people out and help them relax as she poured iced tea and served them pieces of pie.  “Comparing our beautifully set but always sad table at home to the sunny dining room at the beach was a revelation to me,” the Waitress said.  “People want to talk, and they want to tell you what they really care about.  They want to be understood, and some of them want to make a difference and help.”

She devoted her life to hearing people tell their stories, and in the small world that is Baltimore, she learned to connect one person’s deep longing with another’s deep need.  She cultivated relationships “with people who had everything and people who had nothing,” and made the most of it when an opportunity came knocking.  “I learned to be bold.  If I knew one of the people I served had money and that there was a school that needed it, I asked them to do something about it.”  The Waitress was especially proud at the end of her life to know that hundreds of children had better classrooms and art studios and playing fields because of her efforts.

Fully told, the Waitress’s story was punctuated by pain.  Perhaps unable to receive kindness herself, she wanted others to feel it and know it.  Her longing to repair lost relationships was both the fire in her belly to create places of nurture and possibility, and a familiar sadness that never fully healed. She tried to make the most of a difficult childhood, and at home, out of the sunlight, with her own husband and children, she would be the first to admit that she didn’t always measure up.

But she was a survivor.  The Waitress knew the hungering darkness, like the Teacher from Nazareth who she admired so much.  And like him, she offered what she had to kindle the light.

Love,
David